REACT: Who is the greatest college player of all time?
Sports Illustrated asked its writers to weigh in with their picks for the greatest college basketball player of all time. Read through their selections and then tell us yours.
Jimmy Walker probably was not the greatest college basketball player, but his credentials for that honor are certainly more impressive than mine in being allowed to nominate him.
Walker: A two-time All-America at Providence College in the 1960s, an Oscar Robertson writ small, a solid 6-foot-3 guard with a spin move who seemingly could score any time he pleased.
Farber: Has lived in an ESPN-free country for 26 years, has written exactly one college basketball story in 11 years at Sports Illustrated (on Hawaii's Carl English) and has attended one other game during that time (Northwestern vs. Michigan State in the afternoon before covering a college hockey game at night; unless you want to count a couple of epic McGill-Concordia clashes, which you don't).
But if you went to high school in Providence in the late '60s and you loved basketball, you knew Walker was a hoop god. Yes, we were also crazy about Ernie DiGregorio, who would join the Friars after a magical career at North Providence High School (and one year at St. Thomas More), but Ernie D. was more of a contemporary than Walker, which tended to stifle most our hero-worship impulses. Anyway, my buddies and I were monotheists: we genuflected in only one direction. We crammed into Brown's Marvel Gym one night to catch PC. Walker arrived five or 10 minutes before tip-off, ambling into the barn in a mink coat. (Actually I'm not sure it was mink, but I remember it was long and black and it always has been stored as a mink in the foot locker of memory.) He started the game on the bench, presumably punishment for being tardy, but then proceeded to drop something like 40 on the overwhelmed Ivy Leaguers. In class we were being drilled on attributes that would guide us when we left our cloistered world -- respect, discipline -- but Walker was rounding out our education two points at a time. With that spin dribble and stop-and-pop jumper from the top of the key, with that swagger and conspicuous cool, he was giving us a life lesson about the primacy of talent.
Of course Walker was no substitute for my prep school years, except this one day. Instead of more analysis of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, our English teacher moderated a discussion about a paternity suit that had been filed against Walker, which had made headlines that morning in The Providence Journal. (Personal headline: Big Mess, No Tess.) Any diversion from Hardy's dawdling novel would have been welcome, but now we had license to talk about Jimmy for 45 minutes. We were as impossibly inept, socially and sexually, as any teenagers since Paleozoic Era, but even we grasped that in order to have someone name you in a paternity suit, well, you had to have done something else first. That struck us as fabulous.
There have been better college players since Naismith (a McGill man, incidentally) started the madness, but for a long-ago 16-year-old, Jimmy Walker was the best.